Living with an ‘impossible’ illness.
What is Dissociative Identity Disorder?
Dissociative identity disorder (DID), formally known as Multiple personality disorder, is characterised by the presence of two or more distinct personality states. It is a complex disorder caused by severe stress or trauma in childhood. Other symptoms include memory loss, depression, Post-traumatic stress symptoms such as flashbacks and nightmares, an unstable sense of self and loss of identity.
There are a lot of common misconceptions surrounding DID.
It is rare and unusual
For a long time, doctors considered DID to be an incredibly rare disorder with only a small number of genuine cases. DID is a major mental health issue which has been said to be as common in young women as Bulimia with more than 20,000 cases per year in the UK.
DID doesn’t exist
There is still a lot of debate about the existence and validity of Dissociative identity disorder. In my area of the United Kingdom, the National Health Service doesn’t acknowledge DID as a diagnosis. This means that individuals like me are misdiagnosed and refused the correct treatment. I’ve spent the last 12 years being shunted from service to service only to be denied treatment because I don’t fit the designated criteria. This means that in order to get the therapy I need to move forward from the impact of my childhood trauma, I need to pay money I am unable to afford for private treatment. I am not an uncommon case, and many have driven themselves into huge amounts of debt in order to receive help.
Individuals with DID are dangerous and always have an alter that causes harm to others.
Thanks to a lot of misrepresentation in the media, especially from horror films such as ‘Split’ and ‘Hide and Seek’, many people are under the impression that individuals with DID are dangerous. This is far from the truth, in fact, people with dissociative disorders and mental illnesses, in general, are far more vulnerable to being abused and exploited. Individuals with DID have usually experienced prolonged violence, abuse and trauma which put them at higher risk of being the victim of future violence rather than the perpetrator.
Switches are extreme and obvious. If someone had DID, you would know
Dissociative identity disorder is a covert disorder which means a lot of the changes that occur when someone switches between personality states are subtle and often difficult to spot unless you know the person and their alters very well.
DID is a condition created in order to help someone survive dangerous situations, it focuses on concealment. It’s unlikely to find someone with an ever-changing wardrobe and outlandish behaviour differences and accents for each alters. Most alters will be experts in acting as the host to avoid attention being drawn to them.
It takes a huge amount of trust for alters to present themselves to you as an individual. All we can ask is that you don’t abuse this trust and keep an open mind that is willing to learn about this creative survival mechanism.
Living with Dissociative identity disorder
I have spent a lot of time ashamed of my disorder. I still find it difficult to be open to the people in my life about what having DID means and how it affects me because I’m terrified of being accused of lying or faking. A huge factor of DID is denial; I spend so much of my time doubting myself and the validity of this condition that affects every aspect of my life. It’s a painful prospect having to cope with the doubts and speculation of others.
In the past, I have seen doctors that have invalidated my experiences and refused to acknowledge particular symptoms because it would mean having to adjust their outdated views. They would pick and choose which aspects of my illness they want to treat which, of course, only results in limited progress. When all you want is to move forward and live a happier, healthier life it’s frustrating and soul destroying to be treated like a nuisance or an “attention seeker”.
I am truly thankful to the nurses, doctors, therapists and friends that have taken the time to learn about my condition and my alters. I have been lucky to find people to help me fight my corner, to have faith when I lost mine and to witness the highs and lows of this journey of recovery. Something as simple as saying the words “I believe you” can mean so much to someone living with this condition. The validation of having someone that believes in you can give you the strength to keep fighting for a better future.